Growing Teams Too Quickly

“We’re going to double by this time next year.” Some form of that quote appears in most post-acquisition/funding articles, boasting the intention to bring in a new person every few days. While it is no surprise that in today’s market the hiring strategy should tend more towards growing than maintaining size (more on that in another post), it is critical to assess the impact of growing a team too quickly.

Fast growth, especially during the early stages of an enterprise, can have a negative overall impact. First, there’s the obvious that taking on new team members, teaching them and showing them the ropes means the team will be get less done in the near term.

Looking at it from the non-technical perspective, leaders have values and goals regarding the type of company that they’re building. That includes having a healthy culture that forms naturally. A healthy culture is an accepting culture, that changes a bit with every new member, yet strong enough to evolve and exist as the team grows. One thing I like noticing in clients I work with is special lingo–their own internal jokes, and usually a couple of words that are used a bit too often. This is a sign of a healthy culture, but those don’t usually survive rapid growth as new members don’t “learn” the culture before taking on the next generation.

Technically as well, fast growth can have the too many cooks syndrome. When a team comprises of too many people that aren’t used to working together, it tends to harm big picture aspects like architecture and vision. If a product is designed-by-committee it usually ends up being a child that no one feels really responsible for.

And lastly, once a team has grown it does not tend to become smaller again. That means that when the business needs time to mull things over, iterate, test ideas, there’s this big, and costly, team that’s sitting and waiting to get more stuff to do. That’s a monster that has to be fed, even if that diet comprises of needless features that eventually just make all future maintenance and innovation harder.

So yeah, grow your team, but make sure that your growth is planned and managed. Uncontrolled growth is never a good thing.